Songwriting Sessions #3 – The Age of Modern Living

Hello again. This session is about a song I wrote and recorded in early February 2021 linked below:

The Age of Modern Living

This song came about from wanting to record something on my new ukulele, a rather nice Tanglewood TWT 3 if you’re interested, hence the intro and chorus to this is underpinned by double-tracked ukulele repeating a 4 chord sequence that I think rings out nicely on the diddy instrument.

When I started to work around this chord sequence, I found quite quickly that putting heavy guitars and a simple thumping bass line over this made the same chords stand out as a chorus, so the heaviness crept in quite quickly. I am pretty happy with how you can still here the little ukulele in there even in the heavy bits.

Every now and again I will get a song where I think, can I really just loop the chords all the way through? It feels like a cop out, but sometimes it just works. However, you really need to make the rhythm and feel quite different between the sections if you are going to do this, so I dropped out the uke, added a bit of funk to the bass line (which is doubled with fx in the verses) and a bit of wah-wah guitar over it all.

Hopefully this brings the dynamics down and finds a new groove for just long enough for the return of the heavy choruses to have impact. In the second round of the verse, I also added an instrumental bridge that combines the two a bit, and reminds me a little of ‘I Want You (She’s So Heavy)’, the excellent Beatle’s track from Abbey Road – that wasn’t intentional but their influence runs through everything I do despite myself.

I nearly didn’t finish this as I couldn’t find the right way into the lyrics. I got the Chorus line ‘It’s like something out of a dream…’ bit quite early, but I didn’t know what ‘it’ actually was! Nowadays, I need a theme/reason to write a song or I can’t get it finished. In the past I was happier to just string vaguely related words together, but I can’t do it now. I’m not saying that every word has meaning or is worried over, but I always know what the song is about overall, or what my ‘way in’ was.

Anyway, the final piece of this song lyric came form a news article about an appetite suppressant drug, and I just thought how miserable it would be to psychologically not have the joy of looking forward to food and satisfying that desire, even if it does stop you being fat. Then I linked this to how antidepressants suppress extremes of emotions (so I am told), and imagined a world where the ‘new you’ is a chemically altered none-feeling model of conformity. That’s not to say that I’m down on diet or mood pills – I’m just exaggerating the ideas for effect, kids.

Lyrics:

Suppress your appetite, and then you’ll never get fat.
May also never have fun, but don’t you worry about that.
Keep having restless nights? But won’t change your life?
Just listen to my voice. Will see you right it’s like…


Something out of a dream. Something you’ve neve seen,
Shiny Happy and Clean, The age of modern living.
It’s like something out of a dream, And you can get it for free.
If you’d only listen to me your doubts will be forgiven.


Can’t take the highs and the lows? Well then we’ll flatten you out.
Just another straight line, nothing to shout about.
You head full of ideas? Just take another deep breath.
Go and find some blue light .There’s nothing left. it’s like… (repeat chorus)

And there we go. It’s quite short and fast and bordering between my rocky and punky/garage sensibilities. I don’t know if this song will find a home outside of this demo, so show it some love if you like it. Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think in the comments! Cheers.

The Big Beatles Sort Out Black Album Special!

Every 10 episodes of the main podcast we like to do a bonus special with a deep dive into a listener questioner.

So, after 20 episodes, here is the 2nd bonus, focusing on the concept of the ‘Black Album’ – a thought experiment basically curating a mythical 13th Beatles LP from their various solo and post-Beatles projects.

We also take a look at the aggregate album charts so far with a few other top 10s thrown in for good measure. Hope you enjoy! Back to the usual business next week.

Big Beatles Sort Out Episode 20a

Songwriting Sessions #2 – The Monster of All

The songwriting sessions are a series of blogs taking a quick peek behind the curtain of my songwriting methods to accompany my new songs and look back at some of my old favourites.

I’ve been writing songs for over 20 years now, but still feel like I am finding my stride, my voice, and my audience. Hopefully, someone will find these blogs interesting about the craft of songwriting, or connect with my efforts, or at the very least, the process of writing it down may hale me to figure a few things out.

This week it is a brand-new song, ‘The Monster of All’ written and recorded over 3 days at the end of January 2021. You can hear it here:

Soundcloud – The Monster of All

I tend to write very fast once I have an initial idea I want to expand on. In this case, the lyric came first, with ‘The Monster of All’ being one of my 3-year-old daughter’s characters in her make-believe world!

I think it’s a fascinating turn of phrase, and I am gathering up some of her ideas into notes to adapt into a possible fantasy fiction story eventually (I’m also a writer – see the sidebar for my published books). With this, however, I also thought it was a great starting place for a lyric – loaded with possible double meaning about the monsters inside us all etc. so I set to work looking for the music to go with it.

The music was then written over the next hour on acoustic guitar and refined during recording which was about another 2 to 3 hours, so probably about 5 hours in all to get this initial ‘demo’ version together (I rarely ever believe these songs to be finished as such when recording them all myself).

Once again, a recent episode of my Beatles Podcast had influenced me and I wanted to write something in triplets timing, along the lines of ‘This Boy’ and that general ‘do wop’ feel. So, I started with a pretty standard progression that you will hear in hundreds of 50s / early 60s songs, and then deviated on the 3rd and 4th chords to minor key and diminished variations, which hopefully breaks it out of that natural expectation of a major resolve.

The chorus emerged out of a natural change from the verses, and originally was half the length of the recorded version. The challenge with this came in the recording, trying to make this feel more pushed, lively, louder than the verse, and not just a variation on it. I tried a few things, including string backing and a distorted guitar. In the end I found that dropping the piano out of the verses and bringing it back for the chorus and links gave it the boost it needed (possibly – this is all open to interpretation).

Arrangement wise, I didn’t want this to go on too long with it’s quite steady 98 bpm tempo, so there is a pretty standard verse/chorus/verse/chorus pattern, with no mid 8 or solo section, a couple of repeats of the chorus bridge at the end and then a fade out.

Altogether, I am quite happy with it, and quite excited about possibly turning more of these fiction fantasy ideas into songs and creating a concept collection along with whatever I end up writing. Genre wise, I like the idea of ‘Dungeon Rock’! A blend of prog/rock/folk/fantasy themed songs? What do you think?

Anyway, I hope you had a listen and found this remotely interesting. If so, let me know using the contact form below or via my podcast or SoundCloud page, all linked in this article! I am always open to opportunities and collaborations too.

Songwriting Sessions – Don’t be Scared

This is the first in, possibly, a series of blogs explaining a bit behind my songwriting process, on a new song by song basis, with visits to some old favourites.

I hope someone might find a ‘glimpse behind the curtain’ interesting at least, but if not, maybe I’ll learn something by writing this down!

The first track I’m going to write about is called ‘Don’t be Scared’, and you can listen to it here:

Don’t be scared

I wrote and recorded this in late 2020 after discussing Paul McCartney’s ‘Put it there‘ on my Beatles podcast, and wanting to try something that captures the same feeling of simple, pleasing cadences but with augmented finger picking and that emotional minor shift.

Naturally, I started on the open D chord which lends itself to this style of acoustic, resonant, song. However, I eventually needed to change key so I could hit the high notes slightly more comfortably, so the guitar is tuned down a tone to C so I could still play it in open chords for the main part.

It is still a little high for me on the ‘Now go back to sleep’ lines, but it’s better than it was in ‘D’. Ah well, the singing is always the hardest part for me, but I like to stick with it so I can get songs finished at least.

Instrumentation wise, I kept this to a double tracked acoustic guitar and single vocal. I am still considering doing a fully arranged version with bass, a Cajon, and maybe some other bits, but we will see. I learned it on the Ukulele and that sounded quite nice!

Lyrics:

CHORUS

Don’t be scared of the world. Don’t be scared to sleep. There are people here who will always love you, now go back to sleep.

VERSE 1

The dark nights seems lonely only if you let them in. The sun might seem low we know somewhere its shining. Waiting.

VERSE 2

Dark corners, where secrets greet us in the shadow light. Are empty, there’s plenty love to keep us in plain sight. It’s alright.

This is part a lullaby for my daughter, part advice to me. With the anxiety of the current situation, my mind races at night and has a tendency to imagine the worst. So, this is a self soothing song mixed with a lullaby.

Lyrically, I am quite happy with it, especially the inner line rhymes in the verses: lonely/only, low/we know, secrets/greet us, empty/theres plenty. It’s satisfying to find and see through a consistent pattern when writing lyrics.

Overall I am happy with the song, though as always the home recording has scope to be improved, and the arrangement layered up in this case. I may revisit.

If you have read this and listened to the song (and liked it) please let me, or preferably someone else, know! And if you are an artist yourself and are interested in working with me, or my songs, get in touch! I’m open to ideas and would love to collaborate or just hear what someone else does with my music.

The Big Beatles Sort Out Episode 19

Hello! Episode 19 has been released this morning and wow, is it a biggie! Our longest ep yet, purely due to the amount of unpacking needed for at least 3 of the songs in the pick – this is one of my favourites so far, and really shakes up the charts!

Find it linked below, or on all your usual podcast platforms:

Episode 19 on Anchor!

Happy listening!

PS – If you are reading this and do like the podcast, or even if you haven’t yet tried it, please consider sharing this or the podcast links with your friends – the only way we can reach people, is by people, like you, sparing is a few clicks! Thanks.

The Big Beatles Sort Out Ep 18

It has literally just struck me that I haven’t been sharing on here when new episodes of my Beatles podcast are published!

In this podcast, my brother and I discuss 5 random Beatles tracks and I score each for music, production and lyrics, so that eventually I will have my personal list of my favourite Beatles songs!

The best part is really Paul, my brother, who is a super Beatles fan and does tons of awesome research to help me along the way.

Anyway, we are 18 eps in with 2 bonuses, so you’ve got a lot to listen to! The show is linked below, from there you can listen, follow, like, share and review! And please do! It is also available on all major podcast platforms.

Thanks! I will try and remember to post each week when new episodes are released.

https://anchor.fm/garry-abbott

Restoke – Man Up

Last night I watched ‘Man Up’ from the wonderful ‘Restoke’, a group of artists and collaborators who work with the local community to craft music, dance and spoken word performances in various unusual locations around Stoke on Trent.

This was the first year I was able to watch a performance purely as an audience member, having previously helped out with the technical crew behind the scenes, and regrettably missing last year’s performance due to baby duties!

What a year I chose to come and watch.

‘Man Up’ was pitched as “A gritty, humorous & revealing performance from the frontlines of masculinity & mental health.” (https://www.restoke.org.uk/man-up/), a strapline that is entirely accurate, but could not possibly convey the emotional heft and punch that we felt in the audience.

Almost radiating from the stage, there was a palpable energy in that room as the cast shared interpretations of their struggles with the concept of masculinity, identity and mental health.

And for what reason? Well, that was made clear early in the night: Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50. The prison and homeless population is predominantly male. These facts are the surface reality of deep, social questions that we need productions like this to ask.

The received image of masculinity is that men are not great at talking, at sharing their feelings, at ‘connecting’ with their emotions. At worse, it is almost as if we should purposefully avoid doing so. Yet I just watched a group of men from all walks of life, who started this process as strangers, literally perform their anxieties, their stories, their hopes and fears, together, to yet more strangers.

If that’s not talking about your feelings, I don’t know what is.

This was exceptional in many senses. It was an exceptional production, but it was also an exceptional opportunity for those few who chose to share and see the process through. The hope, I would think, is that focussing on these issues will help conversations happen more regularly in ‘real’ life, whatever that means to each of us.

I certainly heard a lot of stories of audience members inspired to check in with friends, family, or even colleagues who might be needing an opportunity of their own to share, to reach out, to be heard, to be helped. And although these stories came from men who had experienced the extreme edges of mental health, there are none of us immune to the possibility of finding ourselves in those same places.

Mental health, like physical health, is a scale that we can all move up and down, and if society’s preconceived notions of gender identity are causing men to not seek the help they need, then we need to challenge and change society, in whatever way we can, even if that is simply telling someone that it is okay to talk about it.

Find out more about Restoke and their work here: https://www.restoke.org.uk/